What is the Culture of Building?
by Howard Davis, Building Culture Editor
With its curved metallic forms, the new Guggenheim Museum in Spain has been widely acclaimed by architecture critics as the unique and original product of a highly creative architect. Like nothing the city of Bilbao had ever seen before, it caused at least one critic to remark that the twentieth century, at its end, had finally produced a building worthy of the times.
But of course the museum, for all of its innovation, is connected to the world around it. It is an example of a now-familiar economic strategy in which old industrial cities like Bilbao are trying to remake themselves with new cultural institutions. It is part of a political trend in which local communities like the Basques are trying to assert their identity within a Europe where national boundaries are fast disappearing. It depended for its design on computer technology originally developed for another industry (aerospace). It is part of the commercialization of art and the way in which institutions like the Guggenheim and the Getty Foundation are connected to the commercial media world.
Indeed, contemporary architecture--like the architecture of the past--is anchored in contexts that are much larger than the architectural profession itself. These contexts affect both the content of buildings and the conduct of practice. The purpose of this section of ArchitectureWeek is to provide a window into these contexts and to report on how they affect practice and the quality of buildings.
These contexts are our contemporary building cultures. They include political institutions, clients, banks, contracting firms, cost estimators, building workers, labor unions, developers, building products manufacturers, insurance companies, zoning and code officials, and financial managers who control the investments of pension funds.
They include building users, architects, engineering and consulting firms, architectural and cultural critics, and even architecture schools. In other words, these building cultures include all of the institutions--and people who work for them--that have an impact in one way or another on buildings.
Guggenheim Bilbao by Frank Gehry.
Photo: Artifice Images
Stone delivery in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan state, India. This stone was quarried locally, and its delivery is part of a building culture that includes a very few players: the quarry and its employees, the person transporting the stone, the builder, and the client.
Photo: Howard Davis